Zu When more than ten thousand paramedics, paramedics and ambulance drivers began a major strike on Wednesday, British Health Secretary Steve Barclay made serious accusations against the unions. They are endangering lives with their strike and have made a conscious decision to harm patients, Barclay wrote. The allegations as lies and scaremongering were rejected by the unions GMB, Unite and Unison. In fact, however, the situation in the British healthcare system NHS continued to deteriorate.
Paramedics in England and Wales went on Wednesday on a full-day strike for the first time in more than three decades. It is true that they drove missions to patients in acute mortal danger. In many districts, however, the services no longer responded to category two to four emergency calls. Category two includes calls for help from people who have had a heart attack, stroke, or severe burns. Categories three and four include broken bones and less serious diseases.
If an ambulance has not been dispatched, people should organize their own transport to hospital by taxi or with the help of relatives or neighbours, the NHS advises. A health secretary had previously called on the population to avoid all “risky activities” on the day of the strike. Professor Stephen Powis, the medical director of NHS England, warned against getting “dead drunk” at Christmas parties and ending up in the emergency room unnecessarily.
Soldiers as substitute drivers
The government has seconded up to 700 army personnel to act as backup drivers for ambulances. However, these have hardly any experience as ambulance drivers and are not allowed to drive with blue lights or increased speed. The army said the situation was “crazy”. In London, only about 200 instead of the usual 400 ambulances were used, most with soldiers at the wheel. The backlog of patient transport could lead to bottlenecks until Christmas. On December 28, the rescue drivers are planning another strike day.
This week, up to 100,000 nurses went on another all-day strike on Tuesday. Her union, the Royal College of Nursing (RNC), is demanding 19 percent more wages. The government is offering £1,400 (€1,600) more wages, an average of around 4.5 per cent pay rise retrospectively for this year, and up to 9 per cent for lower wage brackets in the NHS.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Health Minister Barclay were determined that this payment should remain. This corresponds to the recommendation of the experts of the independent wage commission for the health sector. In view of an inflation rate of more than 10 percent recently, the strikers are demanding significantly more.
“Treated like dirt”
However, the employees of the emergency services earn significantly more than normal nurses and orderlies. The NHS currently puts the average earnings of paramedics in England, including allowances, at £46,643. The starting salary for a nurse is £27,000, £33,000 with four years of experience and £47,000 with additional qualifications. Added to this are still several thousand pounds of allowances.
Sharon Graham, the leader of the Unite union, criticized the government for “treating hospital workers like dirt”. Union representatives accuse the government of being to blame for the strike because it refuses to negotiate wages. Government sources say the wage increases will cost more than £10 billion and will result in a lack of resources in other parts of the hospital and health service. These figures are disputed between the government and unions. In Scotland, the regional government has offered a 7.5 per cent wage increase but the nurses’ union has now turned it down.
The NHS, Britain’s largest employer with a good 1.5 million employees, has been underfunded for years. Corona has exacerbated the burden on the health service. There are now more than seven million patients on waiting lists waiting for an appointment for an examination or treatment. The waiting times in the emergency rooms have also increased significantly recently. There are around 130,000 vacancies in the NHS, which is almost one in ten jobs. There are also tens of thousands of nurses missing.
NHS leaders have warned that further industrial action in hospitals is now at the worst possible time. NHS Confederation chief Matthew Taylor warned hospitals could not afford a winter of strikes. The hospitals are currently under heavy pressure with the flu epidemic, corona cases and the pressure in the emergency rooms. The head of the Royal College of Nursing, Pat Cullen, has dismissed a “quick fix” with a possible Christmas bonus payment. If the government doesn’t come up with a better offer by Friday, the union will decide on new strikes in January.